“The Power of Now” and Creating a Better Future
Eckhart Tolle first published The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment in 1997. Within a few years, partially thanks to Oprah Winfrey’s praise, the book became a New York Times bestseller. Its essential message — living completely in the present and reducing identification with the ego — has been read by millions. The beauty of its message lies in its simplicity, but is it possible for a conscientious individual to live so simply in the modern age?
Tolle gives us a nice distillation of his main points early in the book:
Become present. Be there as the observer of the mind. Instead of quoting the Buddha, be the Buddha, be ‘the awakened one,’ which is what the word buddha means.
Much of the book offers similar, simple advice and means of approaching the act of living. But the more I read and reflect upon this simplicity, the more I feel that important elements are missing from the message.
Tolle writes about relating to other people, but downplays any effort to create meaningful interactions with others in favor of recognizing one’s own existence in the present. He discusses the beauty of nature and dwelling on earth, but again, he leaves out any potentially proactive interaction with one’s environment, human-made or natural.
Take this passage for instance: “Forgiveness of the present is even more important than forgiveness of the past. If you forgive every moment — allow it to be as it is — then there will be no accumulation of resentment that needs to be forgiven at some later time.” In general, forgiveness is a virtue, but we should be careful not to confuse forgiveness with forgetting, which Tolle neglects to mention. Otherwise, how do we learn from mistakes and create a better future?
To take the argument further, consider this passage: “If you find it hard to enter the Now directly, start by observing the habitual tendency of your mind to want to escape the Now. You will observe that the future is usually imagined as either better or worse than the present. If the imagined future is better, it gives you hope or pleasurable anticipation. If it is worse, it creates anxiety. Both are illusory.” They may be “illusory,” but does that take away from the positive aspects of a better imagined future? Hope and “pleasurable anticipation” are incredibly effective tools in making the most out of life.
Tolle relies on long-held concepts, beliefs, and traditions, like those of Buddhism and Zen. However, the nature of the world, as well as the world of nature, has changed since the days of Buddha. Governments and corporations now wield power over people and nature, and I wonder if we need a more complex approach to our interactions with the world, rather than the simple ones that have worked for centuries.
Tolle’s advice can help us reduce stress, anxiety, and unhappiness. But while that reduction may lead to a greater inner peace, we cannot forget that these emotions can be constructive — along with hope, humor, subversion, play, intelligence — as means to live more passionately and compassionately in a truly new world.
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